Studio photos by Charlie Weinmann (@cfwein) taken at Justin Glasco‘s studio in Los Angeles.
Jordan Rose knows how to lay it down. His super heavy and flavorful style of drumming has complimented the music of Cory Wong, Theo Katzman, Caleb Hawley, Joe Louis Walker and many more. Originally from Houston, New York City is home now for Jordan, which is where he works as a session drummer when he’s not on the road. Jordan brings a powerful energy to the stage and to the studio. His passion for the instrument and for the music can be felt with each punch he delivers. Check out Cory Wong’s Live In The U.K album and Theo Katzman’s My Heart Is Live In Berlin to feel for yourself. Jordan has keyed in a great sense of feel; his own sound. His drum centric sense of humor is also worth noting.
Jordan was in recently in L.A. for a family reunion, a show at UCLA with singer Victoria Canal and a recording session with Theo Katzman.
“Part of me wishes I moved to L.A. six years ago after college instead of New York, but it’s one of those things, if I had moved to L.A. I probably wouldn’t be playing the gigs I’m playing now, which I’m really glad I’m playing,” said Rose.
After attending a year of college in Houston, Jordan took two years off from school and from drumming to embark on a two-year mission trip for his church, which sent him to Hawaii. After the mission trip Jordan returned to Houston, dove back into drumming, and then studied music at Brigham Young University just outside of Salt Lake City. After two years at BYU, Jordan transferred to Berklee College of Music.
In this conversation with Jordan, we chat about the path he took to create a career for himself, living and working in New York, playing with Charlie Hunter, a physical difficulty Jordan had to overcome and staying positive and conscious as a daily practice.
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CW: What was life like for you at Berklee?
JR: People always say that Berklee is kind of a microcosm of the whole industry. Being in that environment, surrounded by so many amazing musicians, it’s kind of impossible not to grow and learn. Also, one of the things I loved about Berklee was the diversity of genres. I love that you can play anything you want there. There are people who go there and major in the ukulele.
I was shedding a lot and I was involved in a lot of ensembles through the school; a lot of different genres, bebop stuff, modern jazz stuff, there was a studio drumming class that I loved where we would practice recording and learn about drum recording techniques.
I did a lot of these singer showcases that they held in the Berklee performance center. Ten singers are chosen out of the hundreds of students that audition and they put on this whole show, and they choose a house band for that.
It’s kind of funny, because you put all this effort into the show and you’re paying thousands of dollars [to attend the school]. But that’s why you go to school, to get the experience. Hopefully one day the tables will turn and you’ll get paid thousands of dollars. I’m still working on that [laughs].
CW: How old were you when you started focusing on drumming as a career?
JR: I got really into drums when I was about 12; my first band, my first recording session, and I started playing gigs. I got involved in the school band and was always playing in bands with friends. Rock bands, jazz, funk…we did it all. Then later I decided to go college at the University of Houston where I studied classical percussion and jazz drums. I was playing gigs around, and getting my butt kicked. There were some really great players.
When I came back from the mission trip, I was a little older, I had more life experience. I needed to figure out how to make drumming a real thing for me if I wanted to do it, which is part of the reason for transferring to Berklee. I realized I wanted to do music and that if I was going to do it I should probably get out of Utah and go to a school where I could make some better connections, and set my career up in a better way.
CW: I know you toured with Joe Louis Walker after Berklee, right? How did that come about?
JR: Yeah! That was a connection through a bass player, a guy named Lenny “LB” Bradford who’s been around the Boston scene forever. He’s an amazing bass player. He’s got an incredible energy, huge sound, and deep groove. He would play every Monday night at this place in Boston called Wallys. He’d play the blues, funk, r&b jam sessions. I’d go down there when I could on Monday nights and sit in, and we formed a connection. He had been playing with Joe for a couple years, and he recommended me to JLW, and Joe booked me for a gig without ever hearing me or meeting me.
So my first gig with Joe happened to be within a week of graduating Berklee. He sent me three or four albums, and told me to learn all of the songs. Our first gig was at B.B. King’s in Time Square. It was my first ever gig in New York, first gig with Joe, and first gig out of Berklee.
CW: That’s a big deal! What is your mindset when you’re faced with big opportunities like that, that may be scary or very different? How do you manage that type of stress?
JR: I think that if you feel intimidated, or feel pressure about a gig, I think you’re in the right place. It means you’re growing, and putting yourself in positions to learn and to keep moving. … I’ve played hundreds of gigs with Joe, but that first one stands out. There was so much anticipation and work and energy put into that first gig. And it was an audition, too. We had one rehearsal before the gig.
Playing with someone like Joe, I kind of look at it like a master’s degree [laughs]. He knows everybody. He came up with Jimi Hendrix, with Santana. He’s from the Bay Area. We’d be in the van and he’d just talk for hours about his life. It was an education. And playing with him, there’s so much soul, and experience, and pain, joy, so much life in every note that he plays. It was really life changing.
I played with him for a year and a half, after college. For me that was a long time, for my first gig. He called me “Big Baby.” That was his nickname for me, because I was young, and big [laughs].
CW: After that year and a half with Joe, where did you find yourself at that point? Is that when you moved to New York?
JR: I moved to New York during that year and half with Joe, probably about half-way through. I moved with one of my best friends from Boston, Eric Finland, and we were roommates. He’s an organ player and was also touring with Joe Louis Walker. When we weren’t out with Joe, we were going out to jam sessions, trying to make connections in New York. I think we both reached a point – touring with Joe was great, but for me personally, I was living in New York and was paying all this money and not really taking advantage of New York, because I was only home for a few days at a time. So I told Joe that I needed to focus on New York. It felt like the right time. I didn’t have another gig lined up, but I had to take that leap of faith, and eventually stuff starting coming up. I started playing regularly at this place in New York called Terra Blues, which is like the only blues club left in New York. It’s right next to The Bitter End, right in the West Village. I learned a lot playing there. I was able to make some money and pay my rent.
Then I started playing with this guy, Caleb Hawley, who’s a great singer songwriter. And that’s how I met Theo [Katzman].
CW: How long had you been living in New York before you started playing with that group of musicians?
JR: I started playing with Caleb, a year, year and a half or so into living there. Then I met Theo after maybe two and a half years. Caleb and Theo did a double bill at Hotel Café that I was playing on. I didn’t even know anything about Vulfpeck at that time; they weren’t that big yet. Theo and I formed a connection and when I met him that night he told me he was a drummer too and that he had this band called Vulfpeck. When I looked him up I loved the way he played the drums, it was kind of a similar approach to my playing. Then eventually Theo hit me up to play a gig in New York. We played a halftime show for the New York Knicks. That was my first time playing his music. It was a crazy first gig…Madison Square Garden! Then he hit me up to do a tour.
CW: How would you describe the scene that musicians like Theo and Cory Wong are a part of; this resurgence of funk and soul. Do you feel like you have a role in that scene?
JR: I feel like it’s an exciting scene because it’s taking music that I’ve always loved, funk and soul, that’s always spoken to me, music that’s focused on the groove and about a feeling…it’s less about what’s in your brain and more about what’s in your soul, and these guys are making it cool for people our age, and on a larger scale.
CW: I was listening to Cory Wong’s live album from London, which you play on, and it’s so cool how he makes the music relatable. He lets the audience in on the changes and what’s happening with the music. And Theo does that a lot too, involving the crowd, explaining the music…it just seems like they’re trying to connect to their listeners on an entirely new level. And it’s exciting.
JR: Yeah! As far as being a part of that, I mean I hope so…my goal is to have people walk away from any show that I’m a part of stoked about life and maybe wanting to be a better husband or father or whatever stage of life they’re in, even if it doesn’t relate to music. I feel that music can inspire people and make them forget about their worries and have some positive inspiration.
CW: I love that outlook! Back to New York, what about the city keeps you there? What do you love about living there?
JR: When I was in Boston, trying to decide if I was going to move to L.A., Nashville or New York, a buddy from Boston who had recently moved to New York said to me “man, you’re a musician who’s involved in a lot of different genres. You like jazz, you like playing for singer songwriters, you like blues, you like funk…in New York there’s a scene for any genre that you want, and at a high level.”
I knew that could be said about L.A. as well, but that just kind of spoke to me at the time. So that’s one of the reasons I moved to New York and it’s one of the things I still love about it. I’ve been there for six years, and I’m not lying, literally every week I hear of or meet a new musician, or several, that I didn’t even know existed or live in New York that blow me away. In a place with so many people it makes sense that you’d keep discovering new great musicians though.
CW: Do you think you’d ever consider a move?
JR: [My wife and I have] talked about L.A., but in New York, I’ve been getting more involved with the Broadway scene. I kind of want to explore that and see where that takes me.
CW: What is your involvement with Broadway?
JR: My first experience in the Broadway world was subbing for a great drummer named Jamie Eblen who plays for Dear Evan Hansen…there’s Hamilton and there’s Hansen, it’s been a hit show since it came out three years ago. I was offered to be one of the subs, and it took forever to learn the book. You basically have to learn it on your own, note for note, no rehearsal. You show up whenever you get your first gig with it and you have to be perfect. So it took me a long time to prepare for that. But now it’s great because all of that preparation pays off. If I’m in town, I’ll be asked to do a Wednesday night show or a Saturday matinee, or whatever, and I just show up, I don’t even have to bring sticks!
CW: Is it challenging?
JR: There are some parts! Every Broadway show is different, but this particular show, the music is awesome. It’s more pop oriented. The composers are the guys who wrote the music for The Greatest Showman and La La Land. I love the music, there’s a lot of really groove-based stuff, and some parts where you can rock out and lay into it. The cool thing about Broadway is that it’s kind of become like what the studio musicians used to be in New York, doing jingles and record dates and stuff, but that doesn’t really exist there anymore. So all of those musicians now go to Broadway because it’s a consistent thing. Every Broadway show has heavy weights who’ll go tour with Sting and people like that.
So I met some people in that world and have been asked to be the drummer for a new show called Becoming Nancy and it’s supposed to go to Broadway next year. I’m there for the rehearsals and helping to develop the drum part which is fun.
The cool thing about those gigs, is that if you have the chair, you can sub fifty percent of the shows and still have the gig. You can go tour for two months and come back and still have the gig. It’s a nice way to have stability while also having flexibility.
CW: How much session work are you doing in New York?
JR: It ebbs and flows. But usually a handful of sessions a month, I would say. That’s a mixture of going into studios I have a connection with, and also recording drums myself with a remote setup, at my little home studio. I’ve been doing more of that and trying to grow that.
CW: When it comes to recording drums and mixing your own drums, are you primarily self-taught?
JR: As far as recording drums, it’s been an experiment to the point where I was like ‘should I spend money and go back to school and study audio engineering, or should I spend money on gear and maybe take some private lessons?’ So that’s the route I decided on, was to spend a chunk of money on some good gear…but it’s never ending, you can always have more gear [laughs]. I’ve got a lot to learn with the mixing part but I feel that I can get good raw sounds and send those to someone who can take it to the next level.
CW: You post a lot of hilariously creative stuff online relating to drums and drumming. Where do those ideas come from?
JR: [Laughs] Sometimes ideas just come to mind, like the drum chop, and it’s like ‘why not?’ It’s kind of just being goofy, honestly. I try not to take things too seriously, and have fun with things. So, I hope that posting some goofy things every so often helps to send that message!
CW: What advice would you give to drummers who aspire to be session drummers? I think it seems like a fairly tough goal to achieve for a lot of young players, to become a full-time working drummer.
JR: I think focusing on building a foundation of groove and sound before anything else. I think today for session musicians the new model is based on being able to record yourself. I took a lesson with Aaron Sterling maybe four years ago, and that’s what he told me. He said he knew nothing about engineering and decided to invest in gear and learn it, and now he’s doing huge records out of his home studio. I’ve taken that advice from him, and it would be advice I’d give.
CW: What’s the breakdown of your time?
JR: That’s hard to answer because it’s always changing. If I’m on tour, I’m on the road. If I’m home, every day looks different. Sometimes I’ll have all day rehearsals, sometimes it’s a rehearsal then a gig, or two gigs in a day, but no matter what I’m doing I try to start the day with a positive thing. I try not to look at social media right when I wake up. Maybe I’ll read something inspirational. I try to practice when I can.
CW: What are you practicing at the moment?
JR: Lately I’ve been going back to the basics, to be honest. I had a really strict regimen in college and then I started touring and it’s hard to practice when you’re on tour. And now six years later, I’m finding that I want to get back to that regimen, or at least find a happy medium to what it was in college.
I like to practice in fifteen-minute intervals. Not like practice fifteen minutes and stop, but have fifteen minutes dedicated to one thing and then move on to another subject. So I’ll do a rudimental ritual out of the John Ramsay book, and then after fifteen minutes I’ll move on to the next thing. There are a couple of groove exercises I like to do that help me solidify time. I work with a couple different books, or maybe there’s a song I want to learn. I write it all down in a practice journal. If I have an hour and a half I’ll do six different things.
CW: Do you switch up your grips at all?
JR: I mostly play matched. I played a lot of traditional growing up because I played in drum line, but it just never felt totally natural to me.
CW: I know you recently had an opportunity to play with Charlie Hunter. What was that experience like? What did you learn from playing with him?
JR: Man, that was amazing. Cory Wong and I went to Greensborough, North Carolina which is where Charlie has been living for the last year with his family. He picks us up at the airport and he’s just the friendliest guy. So hospitable. Cory and I were going to stay in a hotel and Charlie was like ‘dude why would you do that? We have a guest house, come stay with us!’ He’s so warm, and that totally translates to his music. We did a recording session as a trio, Cory, Charlie and myself, we did two songs for an upcoming record of Cory’s. It just felt so easy, it felt like I had been playing with Charlie for years. He’s got such a big feel and sound. There was no negative vibe. It’s like, here’s Charlie Hunter, one of the best musicians of our time, and we were two guys who he’d never played with before. He was so humble and would listen to us. Definitely an example of how I want to be!
CW: Who are some of the other people who’ve been around a bit longer who you look up to?
JR: I’ve had a lot of great teachers growing up, but one of note is a teacher in Houston by the name of Joel Fulgham. I got connected with him in high school and to this day we still talk maybe once a month or so. He’s a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. He’s an amazing drummer.
CW: Is there anyone you’d love to work with who you haven’t yet?
JR: Man, there’s so many people, you know? I’d love to work with Yebba. There’s some cross over with who we play with, so that’s a dream that feels like it could maybe be attainable, but still farfetched. She’s bringing soul into the popular world.
I’d love to work with the John Mayers of the world, but honestly, I’m grateful for the opportunities that I do have. I want to keep working with Theo and Cory and Caleb Hawley and Victoria Canal, and this band Lohai that I play in…yeah, it all brings me joy and fulfillment.
CW: You’re involved with so many different projects, and you obviously have a lot going on. How many things are you typically juggling at once? Between Broadway, and touring and session work, how do you manage all of it?
JR: It’s hard. I wish I could say yes to everything. But unfortunately, I have to turn things down, and sometimes it’s just a matter of who I booked with first, or sometimes it’s a bigger picture thing. There are a couple tours I might have to turn down while we rehearse for this Broadway show. It’s like I want to do both, but the Broadway show is something that could provide stability for the longer term. And I will be able to go tour with people once the show starts, but I can’t leave the rehearsals. That’s one of the hard parts about being a freelance musician, is that you can’t do everything. You have to let it go and trust that stuff will come back around even if you have to say no to something.
CW: Do you have a preference when it comes to working in a studio or playing live? Do you thrive in one scenario more so than the other?
JR: I like them both for a lot of reasons. If I were given an ultimatum where I could only do one for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose the studio. Because, in the studio, it’s almost like a journal, you know? You create something and twenty years from now you can go back and re-live that time of your life, and those feelings and the experiences that went into the album. You can do that with live stuff too, if it’s recorded [laughs]. But I just love that about the studio. You have this work that you can hold on to. Even after you’re gone, that’s going to be there.
CW: What about mindset? Do you approach each scenario differently, maybe through a different lens?
JR: That’s always developing and changing, but lately I’ve come to this point where I’m trying to worry less about the little details. As long as the song is supported and the part is appropriate…if there’s a fill that I don’t really love but it works for the song, I try and let my ego go, and I’m happy with it. That’s something I read in an interview of Steve Gadd. Over his years of experience, he learned that it’s not about him. If he played three takes on a song, he may have liked the first take, but everyone else liked the third take better, and he’s learned to just let that go. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. So I’ve tried to have that openness in the studio, and obviously try to do my best on every take. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you do a fill that you don’t love! I used to be more nit-picky and I’ve tried to be more open. Not to say I won’t ask for another take…but it’s similar to the Vulfpeck approach, where they’ll leave a mistake in there. They’re not going for perfection, because humans aren’t perfect. So I guess I’ve tried to approach it in more of a humanistic way.
With live stuff, I try and think about the people I’ll be playing for, and get in the mindset that my goal is to uplift them. To bless them rather than impress them – kind of a mantra I like to live by. When I feel like I’m channeling that more, I feel like those performances turn out better. I’m less in my head and things seem to flow better because I’m playing for something greater than myself. There’s a feeling that’s more fulfilling to me. And I take that same approach in the studio, what will uplift the listener instead of what will impress the listener?
JR: [Laughs] I took a big risk recently, playing with Caleb Hawley. We were playing a festival outside of London. It was super rainy and cold and muddy at this outdoor festival. The backline kit they had, for whatever reason the bass drum was sliding, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. I was getting really frustrated, and there was one song about half way through the set, big ending, where Caleb is on the ground and hitting his guitar and I’m crashin’…so on the last note, on Caleb’s cue, it just came to my mind, ‘I’m just going to kick the drum off the riser.’ So last note came, I kicked the drum, it goes flying. It was a split-second decision; I didn’t think of the consequences, like how all of the mics were going to go flying! I didn’t think about that. But the audience loved it. The sound guys didn’t. But you know, that’s a risk I wouldn’t take in the studio [laughs]. The sound guys came rushing out and I got a look. I felt bad about it, but also I felt amazing about it. After the set I went and apologized. The festival actually posted the video of it happening, so I felt validated.
CW: Have you ever taken a gig that’s more out of your comfort zone?
JR: Honestly, the gig with Cory Wong, I felt was out of my comfort zone. Because, his normal drummer, who I love, Petar Janjic, is amazing and has incredible chops. More chops than I could ever dream of having. So Cory had asked me to sub for a few gigs for Petar, and in my mind I’m thinking ‘I’m not a chops guy, it’s not really my thing.’ It was something out of my comfort zone, because some of his songs require chops, really fast or technical elements…but Cory told me to put my own thing on it and not worry about what Petar did. So that helped me feel more comfortable. But still, in the back of your mind, you know the music might need more chops than what I might normally play, and so I try to do that depending on the song.
CW: Who are some of your favorite drummers?
JR: All the standard legends; Steve Gadd has been my favorite since day one. James Gadson, I’ve always loved. Steve Jordan has always spoken to me. I love Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Billie Higgins…Abe Laboriel Jr, I’ve always loved his stuff. I love Jay Bellerose. Brian Blade. A lot of the guys today, I love Aaron Sterling and the way he plays. And Theo Katzman and Louis Cato, I love their playing. I used to watch J.J. Johnson on the John Mayer “Where The Light Is” DVD on repeat. I love Buddy Miles, his solo stuff and his stuff with Hendrix. I got deep into Bonham. Clyde and Jabo. Al Jackson Jr., Roger Hawkins. The list goes on. There’s so many.
CW: I’d like to ask about something I read about an inner-ear issue you had between 2007 and 2010 that caused you to go almost completely deaf in your right ear. What was your mindset through that, and how did you deal with what you were faced with?
JR: Sorry, what was that? … [laughs]. No, I heard you! Yeah, I discovered the growth when I was in Hawaii. It started with an ear infection, and the doctor eventually realized it was this growth called a cholesteatoma, not to get too technical. It was a benign growth, but it was eating away at my hearing bones, which there are three of. Those bones are what send vibrations to the eardrum, and they were being eroded by this growth, and I lost all my hearing in that ear. Maybe I had ten percent of my hearing in that ear. That went on for about two years. It was incredibly scary because there was no guarantee I’d get my hearing back. I had four major surgeries on that ear, and for the first one they weren’t sure if the surgery might cause nerve damage or paralysis in the face, so it was extremely scary.
CW: Were you playing during that time?
JR: Off and on, because with the surgeries I had to take at least a month to heal. It was an inconvenience to say the least. The surgeries were six months apart. After the third surgery I was supposed to be done and my hearing was starting to come back. At that point the growth had been removed, and they inserted a prosthetic hearing bone that basically connected what I had left. As my ear started healing, my hearing started coming back. I was going to BYU at the time, studying music. About a month into that fall semester I woke up one day and was back to square one. I couldn’t hear again. I went and got an x-ray and my prosthetic had fallen out of place. It was a dark time, because I thought I might not ever get my hearing back. I was asking myself what all of it meant. I wanted to be a musician, but my hearing was being taken away. ‘Maybe that’s a sign that music wasn’t for me…’ I struggled with that for a couple of months. But it’s funny how things work, because this whole struggle I had with my hearing is actually what’s given me the answer and the conviction to know that music is that path I should take.
The very day I found out I lost my hearing again, after I thought it was fixed, I had a concert in Utah at the local library with a jazz group. We were playing, and I remember just being so down and out. It was hard to hear, and it was probably one of the worst concerts I had ever played. I was so unfocussed and so in my head. But after the show, an elderly lady and man approached me. The woman had kind of a funny voice as she spoke to me, and the man said “my wife is completely deaf.” I perked up. She put her hand on her heart and told me that she couldn’t hear what I had played that night, but that she could feel it in her heart. She said “thank you for playing.” I packed up my drums and went to my car and just was crying. I had half of my hearing, and this lady had none of her hearing, and she feels the music. So I thought, ‘who cares.’ It changed the way I look at music. It’s not only about what you hear, it’s what goes to people’s heart.
CW: So you’re able to hear better now?
JR: Yeah, I had a fourth surgery and that was about ten years ago. It’s never going to be one hundred percent. I probably have a 15-20 decibel pad in my ear, as I like to call it. It’s kind of a natural ear plug. If I’m playing in super loud environments I’ll wear two plugs, but sometimes I just wear one because it’s balanced out.
CW: Well I’m really glad you’re still making your music. What’s the next thing for you? What’s on the horizon?
The musical, Becoming Nancy, we are doing the world premier out of town in Atlanta in the fall. Then I’m touring Europe with Lohai after that. Cory Wong’s album will come out, and I’m on one of those songs with Charlie Hunter. Also hopefully touring with Theo next year, we’re in talks about that.